Freetown, August 8, 2022 – Sierra Leone’s Parliament has passed two groundbreaking bills that transform communities’ ability to protect their land rights and the environment. The new legislation serves as a model for the rest of the world.
Passed by unanimous votes, the Customary Land Rights and National Land Commission Acts will, among other things:
- Grant all local communities the right to Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) over all industrial projects on their lands.
- Ban industrial development, including mining, timber, and agribusiness, in old-growth forests and other ecologically sensitive areas.
- Incorporate public environmental license conditions into binding legal agreements between communities and companies.
- Establish local land use committees to make decisions about how community lands are managed, and mandate that those committees are at least 30% women.
“To our knowledge, there is not a legal regime anywhere, in either hemisphere, that grants such robust rights to communities facing environmental harm,” said Sonkita Conteh, Director of Namati Sierra Leone. 
At least 20% of Sierra Leone’s arable land is currently leased to foreign businesses for mining, large-scale agriculture, and other development ventures.  “Negotiations between investors and the communities whose land they seek are fraught with deep power imbalances and are undermined by weak regulations,” said Conteh. “The results can be devastating — for the people and the planet.”
Momoh Bango, a farmer and resident of the Subuya community in Sierra Leone’s Southern Province, explained:
“When an American and Philippine company wanted our land for a pineapple plantation, they negotiated only with our Paramount Chief. We didn’t even see the lease. They took our land and cleared part of our forest. They promised us scholarships, schools, and jobs, but it has been five years and those promises still have not been met.
I’m so happy that our rights as landowning families have been fully respected without any discrimination under these laws. The power to manage and make decisions relating to our land has been given to us through their passage.”
Two members of Namati Sierra Leone’s team drafted the bills in their personal capacity but their progressive content and passage can largely be accredited to communities like Subuya, said Conteh.
“After using existing — and often imperfect — laws to protect their environment and enforce their land rights, these rural communities helped to shape new laws that would work for them. Hundreds of people from across the country showed up to consultations to input on the bills’ provisions. And when the legislative progress stalled, they organized to push them through.”
Speaking on the eve of the anniversary of the U.N.’s damning report on climate change, Namati’s CEO, Vivek Maru, said that countries worldwide need to follow Sierra Leone’s lead.
“Whether it is in Sierra Leone, Brazil, or the United States, the causes and consequences of climate change and environmental destruction are concentrated in communities with less wealth and less power, and in communities that face discrimination. To tackle the climate crisis, we need to confront this injustice. That means giving communities facing harm the power to protect themselves and play a leadership role in building a sustainable economy.”
 In the handful of places that codify the right to Free Prior Informed Consent, for example, the right is typically limited to Indigenous Peoples, and even then it’s often watered down to ‘Free Prior Informed Consultation.’
 In 2013, Action for Large-Scale Land Acquisition Transparency (ALLAT) reported that between 2009 and the end of 2012, foreign agribusiness investors had secured 50-year leases with possible extensions to 21.4 percent of the country’s total arable land. This does not include leases for mining operations, forestry, or other ventures. In Sierra Leone, once a bill is passed by Parliament, the president will officially sign it into law. President Bio is expected to assent to both bills in the coming days.
The bills were introduced to Parliament on October 21st, 2021 by Dr. Turad Senesie, the Minister of Lands, Housing and Country Planning.
For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Director of Communications, Namati
Mobile / WhatsApp: +254 794 677 868